If you have lived through any level of sadness, trauma or pain the mind often tries to block some of those memories to protect itself. The body however reacts to the trauma in a felt sensation so you can still ‘feel’ the effects of it long afterwards when having a flashback or recalling the incident. It can feel like you are right back there in that time and space and all it can take is a trigger for the memory to return. This can be a physical trigger like a smell, sound or visual cue that reminds us of that time. Or a mental trigger such as a recurring nightmare, or visual recollection of events that took place during the original trauma. You could be walking around in a shopping mall and spot a T-shirt similar to the one you remember wearing at the time and this could start a chain reaction of physical sensations and mental recollection leaving you feeling anxious, upset and frightened all over again.
The brain is a powerful thing and it pattern matches so that when incidents of powerful emotions occur it stores them in the memory and any time a similar thing occurs it gets triggered and you remember that which you tried to forget. Bessel Van Der Kolk in his book ‘The Body Keeps The Score’ states;
“The elementary self system in the brainstem and limbic system is massively activated when people are faced with the threat of annihilation, which results in an overwhelming sense of fear and terror accompanied by intense physiological arousal. To people who are reliving a trauma, nothing makes sense; they are trapped in a life-or-death situation, a state of paralyzing fear or blind rage. Mind and body are constantly aroused, as if they are in imminent danger. They startle in response to the slightest noises and are frustrated by small irritations. Their sleep is chronically disturbed, and food often loses its sensual pleasures. This in turn can trigger desperate attempts to shut those feelings down by freezing and dissociation.”
This sudden reaction to being inadvertently reminded of past trauma can result in a sense of feeling unsafe and not trusting yourself or others. You may blame yourself and become harsh and critical turning the anger inwards for not being able to prevent or stop what happened, for not trying harder, for not being stronger or good enough. Whatever the reasons self blame and shame can often impact us in relation to traumatic incidents.
Self loathing can result after years of hating yourself, feeling angry and not accepting who you are, or being unforgiving towards yourself. The feeling of being disconnected, your heart and mind in conflict and not at peace within. This can be compounded by behaving in ways that self sabotage due to long held negative beliefs (many planted by caregivers from childhood). All this can keep you in a downwards spiral. To begin the journey of change there needs to be some level of compassion, acceptance and forgiveness towards yourself first and foremost.
On this note I reiterate the title of this article- Dear Me. Letter writing can be quite a cathartic process so do take care of yourself during this exercise. Environment is key here so choose a suitable time and place where you can be alone undisturbed and sit with a notepad and pen. Contemplate the life you have lived so far, the worries and emotions you have struggled with and the hurts and traumas you have suffered along the timeline of your life so far. Sit with your thoughts and then start to write whatever comes to your mind. That can be random words, sentences or even doodles and pictures. This form of emotional brain dumping helps to clear the mind of background noise and prepare for you for the focus and attention needed to write the letter to yourself.
Once you have cleared the distractions from your mind focus on yourself in the here and now. Who you are, what do you need, and how do you feel. Put pen to paper and start to write a letter addressed to yourself. You can insert your name or just write ‘To me’ write about anything you have been mean or horrible to yourself about. Practice kindness and compassion in this letter, offer yourself understanding, love and warmth. Write to remind yourself that you are worthy, valued, loved and needed. Offer yourself hope, forgiveness and acceptance. If you struggle to do this then try to see yourself through the eyes of a loved one who understands you and wants the best for you. That could be a partner, parent, friend or family member. Imagine what they would say to you and write from the heart. Tell yourself what you need to hear in order to heal.